On Thin Places and Thin Persons

Sustained fasting allows prayer to descend to the depth of the heart and burn out the roots of our passions. I stumbled across this quotation by St Paisius Velichkovsky while I was on Athos, recording the new series of our podcasts. Something about this quote made me think of the ‘thin places’ of the Celtic Isles, and how any human being – each and every one of us – can become a ‘thin place’, a transparent being breathing between this fallen world and the Kingdom of God.

Each of us can reach down to the depth of our soul, each of us can become a ‘thin person’, so the Light of Christ can burn all roots of evil and all the bad seeds we have been gathering since we were young, even in our mother’s womb. The fruit of all our mistakes, all our bad choices, all our bad behaviour – once we open to Christ, once we make ourselves transparent to Him, it can all be healed, it can all be turned into ground for good seeds, bringing good fruit into the world.

But this is a difficult process. It can be raw and painful, and often very confusing. It can feel almost like losing your identity in the process, because the deeper His Light reaches, the more it burns and cleanses the soul. Things that were embedded in us – feelings, behaviour, thoughts and instincts – elements that were part of ‘ourselves’ are burned and lost, and this is perceived as loss of self, loss of identity.

Unfortunately, we live at a time when we learn to define ourselves through our sins and passions. We learn to see our true self in the image of the bad seeds that were planted in us, with or without our knowledge. So it is natural that the process of burning these seeds and their fruit should be painful. 

To most of us, this does not feel like finding ourselves, but losing ourselves; this does not feel like finding a new Life, but like losing our life; this does not feel like being saved, but like being suffocated.

But hold on to your faith, for these are Christ’s words being fulfilled in us. This is His word foretelling us that to die to this world is to find Life in the Kingdom. This is His word foretelling us that to lose oneself for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom is to find one’s true self, one’s true identity.

This entry into eternal Life by crucifying this fallen life is opened to us by Christ Himself and His death on the Cross for each and every one of us. But to see this true Life, to find this true Identity, we must become spiritually transparent, we must become ‘this persons’ through whom the realities of the Kingdom become visible even for eyes and bodies made of flesh. Eyes and bodies like yours, and like mine.


The full podcast ‘On thin places and thin persons’ is available here:


A day of rest at St Columba’s Bay

On Saturday, we went on a day pilgrimage to St Columba’s Bay on Iona. The entire weekend was a small miracle for us. After the winds we had on Friday, we did not expect the bright sunny days God had in store for us.

We started with the Celtic prayers of blessing at the Martyrs’ Bay, then we hiked to St Columba’s Bay. They wanted to go through the desert part of Iona, and of course that I (horrible monk that I am) jumped at the opportunity. We do not usually go that way with our summer pilgrims because the area is difficult to hike, entirely exposed to the winds and very boggy at places (all of which I decided were irrelevant details, so I did not mention them).

By the grace of God, it was a fun and blessed day. We were so relieved that we made such good progress on the Chapel, we all felt like a mountain was lifted off our shoulders. At the Bay, we prayed together the Canon of St Columba, then we separated for private prayer.

We had a quick, packed lunch, then we returned via the Iona Machair to the village. We prayed again in St Oran’s Chapel (the only building on Iona dating back to the Celtic millennium) and the Celtic museum, before the amazing High Crosses and the tomb stones of the monks martyred during the Viking attacks.

The entire day felt like a gift from God, at the end of a week of difficult, hard work. Please continue to support the Chapel through prayer and by sending us a Founding Brick – I shall post a new update on the building work tomorrow. May we all be blessed.

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The Royal Doors are ready

The iconostasis has a very humble, but functional structure: just the central Royal Doors and one narrow Deacon’s Door to the side. This basic structure is used in most Athonite hermitages, including St Paisios’ Kellia or Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s Chapel.

Our amazing group of volunteers (may God bless them!) had to cut through the concrete wall between the workshop and the green-house to create the Royal Doors and a Deacon’s Door. At the end, they dressed the new wall in beautiful wood, just ready for our icons.

Also today, they are finishing the Altar, building Proskomedia table, a small basin to wash my hands for the Divine Liturgy, and some shelves for our service books.

Do keep them in your prayers and do help us cover the expenses for all of this. Our ‘Founding Bricks’ (link below) may be virtual, but the work they support and the faith they express are Real. Be generous! I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I know for certain that Christ (who sees the secret things of the heart, let alone these exterior things) will return it all to you, a hundred-fold, when you need Him the most.


PS: For some reason (most probably the internet on Mull), I cannot add photos to these posts. I shall keep trying.

Starting work on the Chapel of St Sisoes and St Brendan

Our group of volunteers has arrived, and so the story of this little Chapel has began! The Chapel is dedicated to St SISOES the Great, one of the most loved hermits of the Egyptian Desert, and St BRENDAN the Navigator, the founder of the first Monastery in the Hebrides. We offer this double dedication to celebrate the historical and spiritual connection between the heritage of the Desert Fathers and early Celtic Christianity.

May God bless the work of their hands, and those among you who are supporting us from afar. I have created three virtual Founding Bricks in our bookstore. When you purchase them, you will not receive actual bricks. Instead, you will be added unto our prayer-list and will become one of the Founders of this temple.

Each of these spiritual bricks is dedicated to one Saint we love and feel loved by, and they all come with great powers – the power to travel from your home to our small island; the power to support a remote Monastery you may never visit, but where prayers will be offered on your behalf and on behalf of the world; most importantly, the amazing power to express Love by building a nest of prayer to the world.

I know you live far away from our island. This is a way for you to help our Monastery and become the Founders of this Chapel. Although you are offering us virtual bricks, we shall turn them into real building materials.

Note to our US FRIENDS: If you would like to support us by offering a more substantial donation (for which we would be very grateful at this moment!), please do so by sending a cheque to our US organisation (American Friends of the Celtic Saints) at the address below. This way, we can offer you a tax-receipt for your donation. For whatever you can send, may God bless you a hundred-fold.


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Restarting our podcasts & Thank you

I need your help to restart recording ‘Through a Monk’s Eye’ – our series of podcasts for AFRadio. I have not recorded any new material for over two years, but I am now determined to start again. My work at the University of Oxford is finished and I shall move permanently to the Isle of Mull in a week, so – hopefully – I shall have more time avaialable for it.

I would like the new podcasts to be shorter and more interactive, so please send me questions, ideas, topics etc either in a private FB message or at my email – fatherseraphim@mullmonastery.com Please send me practical questions that impact you personally, in a real way (in other words, stay away from theoretical ones).

This morning I am flying back to Europe, after three months of travelling through Canada and the USA. I want to thank you all for evrything – for your kindness, for your hospitality, for bringing me into your lives, your homes and yours churches. Thank you for listening to me, speaking to me, praying with me. Thank you for offering your support, your advice and your love for the foundation of the Monastery of All Celtic Saints on the Isle of Mull – it all counts, every single drop of it, and I pray Christ blesses you for it.

I am flying back and I shall face new challenges, new difficulties, new moments of panic and dispair. I wish I were above it all, but I am not. Each new chapter of the life of the Monastery opens with temptation and pain. But I leave encouraged by the amazing support and enthusiam I have found in you all. By the grace of God and through your prayers, I shall try to work more and to keep going. Step by step, I shall keep you updated on the progress of the Monastery – we started this journey together, God will grant us to see its fulfillment, too.

That is all. On behalf of the Monastery, thank you all for everything, and may we all be blessed.

Christ is risen!

St Cuthbert’s Feast Day: Obedience to Christ

The one thing that sets the Saints apart from the rest of us is their struggle to remain entirely obedient to Christ. There is no bargaining in their mind, no negotiating Christ’s teaching, no diluting His words to the point where they lose the strength to open for us the path of salvation.

Most of us receive the word of God with caution, and we immediately start turning it on all sides until we reach a compromise that works for us. Most of us fear the word of God. All we truly want is something that looks like His word enough to make us feel good about ourselves, enough to make us have the appearance of Christians, but not to the extent that we could lose control over our lives.

One can go through life either in obedience to Christ or in obedience to one’s own will. The challenges and choices of this world are simple and clear if we obey Christ’s word – we need to love, we need to forgive, we need to help. Ultimately, we need to allow the world to crucify us for His name and become true followers of the Crucified One. These are His words, and this is the way of the Saints.

Things only seem complicated when our brain gets in the way. Things only seen unclear when we begin negotiating Christ’s word, looking for a human version of it which does not lead to the Cross. Unfortunately, we always succeed. Unfortunately, we have the frightening ability to reduce Christ’s teaching to something that excludes the Cross. The danger, though, is that without the Cross there can be no Resurrection either.

The Saints are not like that. The Saints do not build an idol of their earthly lives. They have no vision of a perfect life here, no vision of a perfect self in this world. They remain faithful to Christ and His word, and allow nothing of this world to come between them and their God.

Look at St Cuthbert. Look at his faith, the faith of a young man who spent his nights into the cold waters of the North Sea, so he may control his mind and his body in prayer. Look at his obedience to his true calling – a hermit at heart, he left everything behind to be obedient to Christ. A man alone on his island, but carrying the world and its Creator in his heart.

Through his prayers, may we also be given the faith to obey Christ’s naked word, not our own tamed version of it.

Moments of the Cross

The week of the Cross marks an essential change in Lent. This is the moment when we turn from descriptors of faith to faith itself; when we move from things which are about our faith to things which can only exist through faith.

Faith is a tool for life eternal, and to use it for anything else is a deadly waste. We are Christians for this reason only: so that we may survive death. All else is secondary and of no importance by comparison. The Cross – in Lent and in our lives – marks the moment when we see our faith for what it really is: either a Divine tool for life eternal, or a human tool to create nice, moral citizens of this world. There is nothing wrong with being nice and moral, but history has known billions of nice and moral citizens whom death has eaten alive. It is a deadly corruption of a Divine gift to reduce our faith in Christ to anything else except a sure hope in the Resurrection. It is deadly, because it corrupts the only chance we have to survive death.

A moment of crisis, a death, a disease, abandonment – when these come, life is cut in half: life as it used to be before them, and life as it is revealed to us now. Facing the Cross has this effect on us because we train ourselves well to reduce our faith to things which are not of the faith. When we reduce our faith to a set of customs, those customs will not carry us through a moment of the Cross. When we reduce our faith to any human value – social, political or moral; a philosophy or idea; anything created by our brain – when our faith is diluted to things of this world, the Cross will crush everything in its way.

And thank God that it is so! Thank God for the gift of the Cross, for this chance to see how we corrupt our own faith, so that we may start anew while we still can, and approach faith as a means to walk on water, not on the pavement. This is no longer about us looking at Christ walking on water – this has now become about us stepping outside the boat and walking alongside Him. The Cross marks this moment in Lent, just as it marks it in our lives – those moments when we can no longer function on logic, on the things we have been taught; those moments when things get real and the theory of it all is no longer sufficient to help us survive.

Small explosions of life

There is a sense of great freedom in understanding that one does not represent anything and anyone else except oneself. One can easily be crushed by the sense of responsibility that comes from feeling that we stand for anything else except for who we are. When you go through life thinking you represent anything else except yourself, when you allow the world around you to reduce you to a symbol rather than the person God created you to be – that can have devastating spiritual effects.

We are human beings, made of flesh and bones, not symbols of anything else, be that a symbol of our family, of our job, our gender, our race, or even of our faith. We are real human beings. We have real, personal feelings. At some point in our lives, each of us has experienced both the pain of sin and the joy of Christ’s forgiveness. We are only who we are, each of us representing nothing and no-one else except ourselves and our personal story of salvation.

I am not an institution. I am not a system of believes. I cannot be reduced to my gender, my age and my race. Both Peter and Judas were men. Both men crucified with Christ were thieves. The Mother of God and Eve were both women. Nothing, no logical criterion, no external sign can express our personhood, who we are in our personal relation to our Creator.

I travel constantly these months, and the temptation to reduce people to categories is always present. The opposite is valid, too – many people meet me during these travels, and I also sense their temptation to reduce me to my faith, because that makes it easier for them to interact with me. As a rule, it is easier to interact with ‘categories’ of people, with the generalities (that is, the prejudices and already formed opinions) concerning a category, than it is to risk meeting a real human being.

I pray both myself and the people I meet will find the courage to take this risk. I pray to remain simple and focused on just being myself. I pray to simply witness to nothing else except my personal experience. I pray we all remain open to love each other, open to enter a real relationship with our true selves – as human beings, as persons created in the image of God; not as impersonal categories, not as symbols of anything or anyone else.

Small explosions of life. Small miracles. This is what meeting each other should be like. The image of God meeting the image of God: a life-giving sacrament.

At home in the desert

I’ll try to write a few lines, just to keep my heart open and my mouth ready to speak. This always happens when I travel for a long time and I meet many people. A need to be quiet, a temptation to lock myself in a room and not come out takes over and I find myself in a bubble of silence that is very difficult to burst. This cannot be of Christ – the very purpose of my travels is to be here, to serve the Monastery, to meet you face to face, to speak to you, to ask you questions and learn from you.

Traveling is hard because it reveals to me the extent to which I have grown roots somewhere else in the world, when – in fact – I should be able to feel both at home and ‘in the desert’ everywhere. We belong everywhere, for there are no physical boundaries in Christ; and we belong nowhere, for we are not created for this fallen world, but for Christ’s Kingdom.

When I travel, I always think of St Brendan and his absolute freedom from the idols of this world, the way in which he refused to allow anything in this ‘valley of death’ to define him – always sailing further, always looking for Christ’s Kingdom, to the Resurrection: his real home, his real roots.

There must be a way in which we can interact with the world which is neither indifference, nor idolatry. There must be a way in which we can still get involved with the world, without getting trapped by it. Among all the saints I know, St Brendan is the one whose central quest seems to be precisely this: to love the world with a love that has its source in Christ – not in myself, nor in the virtues of the ones I love. To live in this valley of death in a way that does not suffocate the life in me, but brings new life into this valley.


Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and we are all going home. But what if home is not that towards which we run, but precisely that from which we run away? What if home is not that which is familiar to us, but precisely that which is unfamiliar? Christ’s Incarnation is the ultimate act of inclusion, when God so humbles Himself out of His love for us that He puts on the flesh of His Creation, so that we may all become One.

What if home is actually this very Oneness in Him, this enlargement of our selves, this letting go of what is familiar in search of what we lack in our humanity? What if home is actually Christ Himself? Isn’t this the time to let go of these crumbling ‘selves’ we built ourselves, and embrace His Being as ours?

What wondrous beings would we become if we opened our caves for Him, with everything that Christ is? What would our humanity feel like if His Divine humanity entered our caves? If His meekness took over our hearts? If His forgiveness and sacrificial love invaded the darkest corners of our caves and inundated them with His Divine Light? What wondrous beings would we become in Him?

Christmas is coming and we leave the world as we gather our earthly tribes and shut the doors behind. Christ travels at Christmas too, but He does the exact opposite journey. He descends from the Throne of His Divinity to embrace the world, while we leave the world to hide within the walls of familiarity. We reject all that is not part of our identity, while Christ embraces the unfamiliarity of our created flesh and makes it part of His Divine Identity.

When you look at what Christ is doing by becoming Incarnate, and how we celebrate His Incarnation – we seem to be going in opposite directions. He is so enlarged by love that He overcomes the ontological difference of natures between God and Man, while we are so absorbed by our tribalism that we cannot overcome the imaginary differences of blood (and blood is dust), wealth (and wealth is illusion) or status (what status will ever overcome death?) within the human nature we all share.

How is it that we celebrate Christ’s ultimate Act of openness and inclusion, by marking our familiar territories and cutting ourselves from the rest of the world? Christ came into the world and the world rejected Him because He was a stranger to all. We closed the gates to our hearts, and we kept outside the Saviour Himself. Two thousand years later, have we not learnt that our salvation comes from opening ourselves to the world, from enlarging our being through love and the pain it brings?

Christmas is coming, and it brings us once again face to face with our Creator. May this be the Christmas when we hear His call and we open the gates of our caves to Him. May this be the Christmas when we let Him enter our being, so that all that He is becomes ours, and we may find our true selves, our true home and our salvation in Him.